Saint Louis University

Social Work Students, Instructors Reflect on Recent India Trip

SLU in IndiaSaint Louis University's School of Social Work offers a unique two-week international course in India that explores justice, equity and social change issues within the diverse country.

Jami Curley PhD, MSW, Director of Field Education has been leading a group of social work students on this trip since 2010.

The India International Social Development Program introduces students to the obstacles many urban and rural communities in India are facing as a result of the rapid globalization and industrialization that is occurring in India. Significant economic globalization and industrialization has impacted Indian health, ecosystems, society, justice, and equality, further marginalizing communities and increasing urban poverty.

During the most recent trip from December 2013 to January 2014, instructors Curley and Kristi Richter, MSW traveled with students to Mumbai and Dahanu where they interacted with community leaders through field activities, explored the urban-rural divide throughout western India and attended lectures facilitated by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on the changing social landscape in India.

While in Mumbai, students visited a fishing village that has been impacted by the modernization movement throughout India. The fishing community is engaged in a struggle with private land developers who are attempting to acquire large portions of the community's land in order to build hotels and other accommodations for tourists.

The development of land is infringing on the community, creating more than just a poverty issue. "This community, and many others like it throughout India, is slowly losing their identity and culture as a result of modernization," Curley said. Students spoke with leaders within the fishing community and learned about the challenges the community is faced with. "They are just regular people who are concerned about their family, jobs and community," said one student."

While in Dahanu, students again engaged with locals by visiting a farming village. Students at the farming site assisted laborers with digging trenches and fertilizing crops. They spoke with farmers about their worries regarding industrialization and its effects on resources and commodity demands.

"It was neat to see how passionate the farmers were about their work but disheartening to see how they are being affected," a student said.

During the immersion trip, students not only learned about the struggle for economic, ecological, and social equity in India but also recognized the privileges they have in the United States. For instance, in much of their travels within India, students utilized rickshaws, taxis, buses, and trains that ordinary residents of Indian communities would use in order to better their understanding of Indian way of life.

"The resources in India are completely unlike the resources we have in the States," a student said. The locals also benefited by welcoming the students into their communities.

"The members of the communities we visited appreciated our willingness to listen to their stories, understand their struggles, and educate ourselves. They were happy to see people who cared," Curley said.

The India International Social Development Program is an experiential trip that offers students much more than the traditional classroom setting.

"It is a first-hand way of studying the multifaceted effects of globalization and industrialization," Richter said. "Students step out of their comfort zone and realize that reality is different from what is portrayed in the media or in a textbook.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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